Loughner gets life in prision for Arizona mass shooting

Posted on: 2:20 pm, November 8, 2012, by , updated on: 06:22pm, November 8, 2012

(CNN) – Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords stood next to her husband in court Thursday as he spoke directly to Jared Loughner, the Arizona man who tried to assassinate the then-congresswoman in a January 2011 shooting.

“Mr. Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven’t put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place,” former astronaut Mark Kelly said.

Giffords was seriousy wounded when Loughner walked up and shot her in the head during her meet-and-greet event with constituents outside a Tucson grocery store on January, 8, 2011. A federal judge, a congressional aide and four others were killed and 12 other people suffered wounds.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns sentenced Loughner to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. The punishment includes seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years.

“The evidence clearly shows that he knew what he was doing, despite his mental illness,” the judge said.

Loughner, 24, spoke just once, confirming to the judge that he would make no statement before sentencing. “That is true,” he said.

Beside the dramatic appearance by Giffords and her husband, nine other victims spoke at the sentencing hearing held in a packed federal courtroom in Tuscon, Arizona. Much of the time, they directed their words toward the 24-year-old Loughner, whose lawyer stroked his arm at times.

“You pointed a weapon at me and shot me,” said Susan Hileman, who was wounded by Loughner’s Glock pistol. “Over last several months, I wanted to take you by the shoulders and shake you and scream at you.”

“It’s an awful situation,” she said, looking straight at Loughner, “and it’s all because of you.”

His victims gathered that day “to witness democracy in action,” she said. “We brought family and friends. You brought a gun.”

Mavanell Stoddard described how her “precious husband,” Dorwin Stoddard, was fatally shot as he fell on top of her to shield her from the onslaught of bullets.

“Somehow when you shot him, I got out from under him,” Stoddard said. “I was screaming ‘Oh God, oh God, help me.’ I said to him ‘Breathe deeply’ and he did. Therefore, I believe that he heard me said ‘I love you.’”

He died in her arms her minutes later, she said. “Then I passed out because you had shot me three times,” she said. “You took away my life my love my reason for living.”

“I am so lonesome,” Stoddard said as she stared directly at Loughner. “I hate living without him. No one to hold me, no one to love me, no one to talk to, no one to care. I forgive you. As a Christian I am required to.”

“Mary Reed, who was among the wounded, blamed Loughner for introducing “my children to something sinister and evil.”

“My children will forever remember the moments of people when they died, the smell of blood everywhere,” Reed said.

“Jared took their lives, their bodies, but he will not take their spirit,” victim Pat Maisch said.

Pamela Simon, one of the Giffords congressional aides who was wounded, said Loughner is reminder “of our society’s failure to provide adequate mental health.”

“Jared, I know you did not choose this illness that led to this horrific tragedy,” Simon said. “When you were a student in middle school and I was a teacher there at the same time. You were a regular kid.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber was Giffords top congressional aide when Loughner’s gunfire interrupted a meet-and-greet event with constituents outside a Tucson grocery story.

“The physical and mental wounds will be with us forever,” said Barber, who was hit in the leg by a bullet.

He spoke of watching congressional aide Gabe Zimmerman — “one of my dearest colleagues” — die. “He was my go-to guy, a human being with so much compassion,” Barber said.

Barber won a special election to fill Giffords’ congressional seat after she stepped down a year after the shooting.

“We are thankful she survived your attempt to take her life,” Barber told Loughner. “You did not take away her compassion and desire to serve. In fact, the whole world knows of this great leader. She remains the model of bipartisanship and political courage.”

Barber told the court he supports a life sentence for Loughner.

“I hold no hatred for you, but I am very angry and sick at heart about what you have done and the hurt you have caused all of us,” Barber told Loughner. “You now must bear this burden and never again see the outside of a prison.”

Mark Kelly, who was training for a space shuttle mission when he learned his wife was shot, spoke for her as she watched.

“Gabby would trade her own life to bring back any one of those you savagely murdered on that day,” he said. The statement noted each of the dead.

“And then there is what you took from Gabby,” Kelly said, looking at Loughner. “Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered. Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she was once so very good at.

His wife now struggles to walk, an arm is paralyzed and she is partially blind, he said. She stepped down from her position in Congress in January 2012 to focus on her recovery.

“Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life,” Kelly said. “To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But know this, and remember it always: You failed.”

Directing his comments away from Loughner for a moment, Kelly said “There’s something else Gabby and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about. “

“The way we conduct politics must change,” he said. “Sure, it’s easier to win a debate if you can turn your opponent into a demon, but that’s not how we move forward. Not only does slash and burn politics make Americans cynical about their leaders, but it leads to bad ideas. It creates problems instead of solving the ones we have now.

Kelly concluded with words directed again at the defendant. “Mr. Loughner, pay close attention to this: Though you are mentally ill, you are responsible for the death and hurt you inflicted upon all of us on January 8th of last year,” he said. You know this. Gabby and I know this. Everyone in this courtroom knows this. You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did. But after today. After this moment. Here and now. Gabby and I are done thinking about you.”

He pleaded guilty to 19 charges in exchange for the life sentence to avoid facing the death penalty. He had been facing more than 50 federal charges.

“Mr. Loughner, you have been given a gift, whether you know it or not,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst said, just before recommending a life sentence. “Almost all the victims you shot and the families of those you killed came to us and said they didn’t want us to seek the death penalty in this case.”

Under the pleas, Loughner admitted guilt in the wounding of Giffords and the murders of federal employees U.S. District Court Chief Judge John M. Roll, 63, and congressional aide Gabriel M. Zimmerman, 30, prosecutors said.

Loughner also pleaded guilty to the attempted murders of federal employees and congressional aides Ronald S. Barber, 65, and Pamela K. Simon, 63, prosecutors said.

Loughner also admitted causing the deaths of Christina-Taylor Green, 9; Dorothy “Dot” J. Morris, 76; Phyllis C. Schneck, 79; and Dorwan C. Stoddard, 76, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Loughner admitted injuring with a Glock pistol 10 people participating at an activity provided by the U.S. government and creating a grave risk of death to 13 more people.

Prosecutors agreed to the plea deal after taking into account Loughner’s history of mental illness and the views of victims and their families. The judge in August ruled Loughner competent to stand trial.

CNN’s Dana Bash and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.